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(2nd LD) New cases up again on cluster infections, imported cases

All News 11:44 March 31, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES paras 4-6; ADDS more info in paras 9-10, 15)

SEOUL, March 31 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported a slight uptick in new cases of the novel coronavirus Tuesday, driven by a steady rise in cluster infections and imported cases.

The 125 new cases, which were detected Monday and up from 78 new cases a day earlier, brought the nation's total infections to 9,786, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The country's death toll rose by four to 162, with more than half of fatalities being patients who are aged 80 or older.

Of the 125 new cases of COVID-19, 60 were in Daegu, the epicenter of the virus outbreak here, following mass infections at a hospital. The total number of cases reported in Daegu and the surrounding North Gyeongsang Province reached 6,684 and 1,300, respectively.

Other major provinces and cities also reported infections, with 24 additional cases in Seoul after more confirmed cases were reported at a church that already had over 20 cases. Gyeonggi Province reported 13 new infections, while Incheon, a port city just west of Seoul, added six new cases.

The country also detected 15 cases coming from overseas at quarantine checkpoints, up from 12 cases reported the previous day, raising the country's total number of imported cases to 518.

Health workers in protective suits enter Keimyung University Dongsan Hospital in Daegu on March 31, 2020. (Yonhap)

To better contain imported cases, South Korea will enforce a two-week mandatory quarantine on all entrants from overseas starting Wednesday.

Under the new measure, all arrivals to the country regardless of nationality are required to stay in isolation for 14 days. Visitors without local addresses are to stay in government-designated facilities at their own expense.

"We believe the number of short-term foreign visitors will go down if we enforce a two-week mandatory quarantine," Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said at a press briefing. "We will utilize quarantine facilities with 1,600 rooms to accommodate arrivals, but we can provide more rooms depending on the situation."

Kim said around 530 South Koreans who are to be airlifted from virus-hit Italy will also be isolated for two weeks after they arrive here on Wednesday and Thursday.

Amid persistent concerns over infections in communities, the government said online classes will start on April 9.

The new academic year here usually starts in early March, but the country had already postponed it three times over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

South Korea has been pushing for an extensive 15-day social distancing campaign since March 22 to stem small-scale cluster infections.

Entrants from Europe who have no COVID-19 symptoms board a bus bound for the KTX station in Gwangmyeong, south of Seoul, at the second terminal of Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on March 29, 2020. (Yonhap)

Citizens are strongly urged to stay home, except for essential needs or jobs. The government has also strongly recommended people suspend religious gatherings, indoor sports activities and visits to nightclubs and other entertainment venues.

"If we ease our social distancing campaign, there is a high possibility that the virus could spread rapidly in the country again," Kim said.

The KCDC said 5,408 patients have recovered as of Tuesday, up from 5,228 the previous day, and 4,216 are receiving treatment, down from 4,275 the previous day. A total of 383,886 people have tested negative for the virus out of 410,564 people tested since Jan. 3. The virus was first detected in the country on Jan. 20.

kdon@yna.co.kr
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